An Autumn Escape at Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam

Waldorf Astoria is a hotel group whose name is synonymous with absolute luxury and elegance. One of its most recent additions, the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam is the epitome of both of these as it sits so prettily on Herengracht, a long linear road that lies next to the canal.

Given the option of room check-in, the Fragrance Master knocks on the door and offers you the choice of what you would like your room to smell like for turn down service…..a simple, unforgettable gesture that makes you feel incredibly special.

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The beautiful Fragrance Master

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Which fragrance would you like…..perhaps the rum and cigar inspired Ernesto or the light and summery Dada?

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A delightful tray of macaroons welcomes you under a silver cloche alongside an intriguing chocolate key which unlocks the bar…..

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The hotel itself is an historical masterpiece, as it is constructed from six 17th century townhouses, each inhabited by some of the city’s most colourful characters over the years. The Vault Bar coined its name from the fact that it sits in the basement where the old bank vault used to be……with a set of original lockers still in place (whether there was is still any treasure to be found is undisclosed!).

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The cocktail menu at the Vault Bar comes in the form of a wallet. Each note inside denotes a different country and therefore recipe inspiration for a extraordinary concoction.

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Vices and Vault – the Bar, ladies and gentlemen

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One half of the masterminds behind the bar concept. Thiago (pictured) and his brother, Wilson, have developed the bar experience at Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam to be truly unforgettable. Here he is holding the Indian inspired cocktail, that sits under an enormous brass pineapple. The presentation is immaculate.

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Even the bar snacks come under lock and key!

The bar snacks are delicious and if you fancy something more substantial, the hotel also has the Goldfinch Brasserie and the two-Michelin starred Librije’s Zusje Amsterdam.

Your hotel room will either overlook the peaceful canal or beautiful garden – one of the very biggest in Amsterdam. Tough choice to pick which you would prefer!

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Complete with beehives perching on a roof top…..

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….and outbuildings. A perfect spot for a wedding or romantic rendezvous.

The historical aspects of the hotel are fascinating….

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This grand staircase was built by the architect of Louis XIV, Daniel Marot. If feels quite glorious walking up and down it!

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Private dining doesn’t get more spectacular this. In the Maurer room hangs impressive pieces of 18th century work, painted by the man himself.

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The Goldfinch Brasserie that overlooks the garden. Upstairs is Peacock Alley, which is a wonderful spot to take afternoon tea.

The rooms and suites are the height of sophistication, each holding their own charm and personality. Here are two of the most impressive suites – the Van Loon and Bretano.

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The bedroom of the Van Loon Suite

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The sitting room of the Van Loon Suite

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The exquisite sitting room of the Brentano Suite…..

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….and its bedroom.

The hotel is also one of the few hotels to have a Guerlain Spa….its blissful pool looking out to the garden.

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And if you can really truly bear to leave the idyllic settings of Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam, the heart of the city is on your doorstep to explore. A fabulous location that will ensure you to have an unforgettable experience.

Celebrating International Women’s Day at Grifco PR!

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Grifco PR is sharing inspirational stories and asking for some words of wisdom from five of the fantastic women we are proud to work with around the world.

Tracy Bamber, Strategic Sales Manager for Wilderness Safaris

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2016 is an incredibly special year for Tracy, as she celebrates 21 years of working at luxury safari operator, Wilderness Safaris and will be competing in her 10th Comrades Marathon, a huge achievement in ultra-marathon running, particularly for someone who became a runner by accident!

After taking up running to get back into shape, Tracy went head first into the Two Ocean Marathons, one of the toughest in the world, after making a bet with a colleague who didn’t believe she could finish the gruelling route.

“He looked at me and laughed, saying, ‘You’ll never be able to do it – it’s one of the toughest marathons.’ His words immediately challenged me and I was determined to prove to him that I could do anything I wanted to do! At this stage of the evening he’d had a few drinks and I suggested that we bet on it! He said that I would not be able to complete it, while I said I would – the bet was on… I challenged him to pay me £900 if I completed the run. This money would go to Children in the Wilderness.”

In her first year of running Tracy raised around £3665 and since then she has run 10 consecutive Two Oceans Marathons, known as the ‘world’s most beautiful ultra-marathon’ and has finished nine consecutive Comrades Marathons, ‘the ultimate human race’.

What makes Tracy’s achievements even more special is that she has raised more than £45,780 for charities in Africa through her running, supporting Children in the Wilderness, the Starfish Greathearts Foundation and the Wilderness Wildlife Trust.

To read more about Tracy’s inspirational running and charity fundraising visit www.wilderness-safaris.com/blog/posts/my-big-year-an-interview-with-tracy-bamber

Lorena Puica, Founder of iamYiam.com

Lorena Puica

Lorena’s journey from leaving home in Romania at the age of 17 with 300 euros in her pocket, to founding her own social wellbeing hub, iamYiam.com, via the world of finance is remarkable.

Serious health problems led Lorena to turn her back on traditional medicine and discover the benefits of natural health. Last year, she left her City job to set up online natural health and wellbeing hub, iamYiam.com, whose aim is to improve the health and wellbeing of 1 billion people by 2025. A bold statement indeed, but Lorena is not one to shy away from a challenge!

At only 31 years old, Lorena has gained four degrees in finance and business, published a book on microfinance at the age of 26 and gained eight years of investment management business development and strategy experience across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. She speaks four languages and not only pushes her mental boundaries but also her physical ones.

Last February, she ran seven marathons in seven continents in 10 days finishing in Antarctica (world record pending!). She has also climbed Kilimanjaro in four days and her first ever extreme adventure was walking 861km in 19 days (about 46km per day – without any rest days).

iamYiam.com is set to be a game changer for the wellness industry and Lorena is definitely an entrepreneur to watch. Hailed the Airbnb of Natural Health Experiences, iamYiam.com brings together quality practitioners of natural health in London (e.g. meditation, yoga, acupuncture, nutrition etc.) with consumers and makes it easy to book the best experience for exactly their needs and goals.

Denise Leicester, Founder of ila

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A qualified nurse, aromatherapist, yoga teacher and yogic healer, Denise’s hands-on experience extends from the rural communities of India to the Dubai royal family, and spans Eastern and South American healing traditions.

In 2005 Denise developed a unique concept of wellbeing that addressed the inner essence through the skin, an absolutely pure product range created in complete harmony with nature and delivered with conscious, healing intent.

She spent the first 12 months of the company’s inception researching, travelling and sourcing the purest ingredients from the most ethical international farmers and growers- simple but extraordinary people who inspired her with their deep love of the earth.

From women of the ancient Berber tribe in Morocco to a co-operative of farmers in India, Denise champions the extraordinary tribes and indigenous communities who ‘hold the world’ for us and reminds us how vital it is for us to truly vale and support them if existence is to continue.

Debrah Dhugga, Managing Director of DUKES LONDON and the soon to open DUKES DUBAI (September 2016)


debrahDebrah Dhugga, Managing Director of the luxury Hotel Group DUKES, is one of the few female MDs in the hospitality industry. Already, this makes Debrah extra aware of the importance of her position and the extent of her influence on fellow women, especially younger generations. Debrah’s dedication to this cause is clear in her recent placement on the Northern Power Women’s Top 50 Power List, along with previous recognition such as the Business Women Mentor of the Year Award back in 2013.

In the past, Debrah has taken pride in mentoring students under the Savoy Educational Trust mentorship programme and has encouraged mentoring and support of female managers as a founder of the Leading Ladies of London networking club. More recently, Debrah hosted a lunch at DUKES for the Women in Journalism initiative, showing her support of females in positions of success and power in industries wider than just hospitality.

As well as wishing to impart her wisdom and experience on younger generations and mentees, and to lead the way in diversifying the work place, Debrah easily relates to fellow successful female businesswomen from across the world. As the head of an ever expanding luxury hotel brand, soon to open its doors in Dubai, Debrah flies all over the globe on business. Drawing on personal experience as a frequent solo female business traveller, she created the Duchess Rooms at DUKES, a unique category of luxury accommodation that caters solely to the solo female traveller. With pampering toiletries from REN, female amenities, and a personal welcome note from Debrah herself, this is the dream set up for any female traveller, serving to make business or leisure trips that little bit easier for women travelling alone.

We’d like to extend our admiration to Debrah for all the work she has done and continues to do to celebrate the place of women in her own industry, and in the wider business world.

And last but not least…we couldn’t forget our own MD at Grifco, Claire Griffin!

Claire Griffin, Managing Director of Grifco PR

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Claire wanted to run a boutique PR company that nurtured the needs of its travel clients. In May 2012 she set up Grifco, which now has over 45 of the top travel, spa and beauty clients in the world.

Claire has 24 years’ experience in luxury PR working on high-profile global campaigns, but she started out, armed with a degree in Law and American Studies, as a journalist for The Chester Chronicle & Evening Leader.

She moved into public relations in 1990 with one of the UK’s biggest PR agencies, the Grayling Company, and three years later took up a role as Account Director at Barclay Stratton PR. Always up for an adventure, Claire jumped at a fantastic opportunity to work in Sydney as Communications Director for one of Australia’s leading law firms, Allen’s.

On her return to the UK in 1998, Claire ran, developed and grew business for Columbus Communications, sister company to ZFL (now named PRCO), looking after accounts including Four Seasons Hotels Worldwide, Mediterranean Experience, Cap Juluca in Anguilla and Rome Cavalieri Hilton.

When she is not heading up the Grifco team, Claire is busy being a mother to two young boys. We admire how she effortlessly manages to juggle work and family life, proving (to an office full of women) that you can have both! In her down time, Claire enjoys spending time with her boys, or going for a run along the River Thames.

Happy International Women’s Day from the Grifco PR team x

Mojito flavoured Macaroons? It must be Grifco’s Annual Press Day!

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We love it when the August Grifco press day comes around as it means a chance for journalists to come and meet with the team and find out all about our clients’ latest news and updates. This year, our press day was held at the beautiful Conrad St. James hotel, which was the perfect venue for journalists to pop in and say hello throughout the day!

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For those that needed a little extra pampering after an early start or long day, we had a ELEMIS spa area where some of the latest ELEMIS treatments and products were showcased.

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Our Junior Account Executive Cecile, captured all the action on the day whilst Conrad St.James provided us with fresh pastries and delicious afternoon sweet treats, including mojito-infused macaroons, mini chocolate ice cream cones and tequila sunrise jelly cocktails. Terrible for the diet but that didn’t stop us all loading up our plates!

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Grifco team members, Nicole and Nadia having a lovely catch up with writer Rod Gilchrist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To top it all off every journalist went home with a gift bag full to the brim with goodies…bottles of wine, olive oil, flip flops and enough beauty treats to fill their whole bathroom cupboard, kindly donated by our lovely clients.

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We always receive great feedback with many leads for clients following press day. Take a look at our twitter and Instagram feeds, which were buzzing with journalists sharing their favourite parts of the press day:

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…and after a hugely successful turn out, the Grifco team have gone to rest their weary feet – until next year! Big thanks to everyone who attended on the day.

 

Grifco Spends 48 Hours at Jade Mountain, St Lucia

Wow, where do I start? I was recently lucky enough to spend 48 hours in the world-famous Jade Mountain hotel in St Lucia, the haunt of some of the world’s best know celebrities and VIPs. You can imagine that I can beyond excited for some much needed ‘R&R’ in paradise.

Soufriere, St. Lucia; Jade Mountain at Anse Chastenet Resort, where each suite has a view of the Pitons

On arrival, the first thing that struck me was the overwhelming noise of birdsong. This is quickly followed by a greeting from the enormously friendly staff who insist on doing everything for you, including unpacking your suitcase whilst you relax admiring the absolutely amazing, uninterrupted view of the Pitons. When I say amazing, that is an understatement.

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The view from our room

Once arriving in our room I found myself just gazing at the Pitons for what seemed like an eternity. Then my thoughts moved to the complete lack of a 4th wall in the room. We were entirely open to the elements which, after coming from a very cold rainy London, seemed a little counter intuitive. I very soon got used to it however and quickly felt at one with the surroundings. Jade Mountain has been so cleverly designed that despite the seeming vulnerability to the elements, you are completely protected; it’s as if there is a hidden shield in place of the wall that is so effective that even the mosquitoes do not dare enter!

After a few minutes settling in, I then focused my attention on our private infinity pool. This pool is divine and what I found intriguing were the tiles that line it. I say intriguing as, when you look at them from different angles, and as the light changes throughout the day, the tiles change in colour. Each and everyone one of the different colours is wonderful (similar colour illusions can be seen throughout the resort). The design is genius, the colours breath-taking and the cool breeze blowing in from where the wall should be, so very refreshing.

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The pool tiles with their ever changing colours

As we had arrived just after lunch, it was then off to the beach for some swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing. The beach is a 5-10 minute walk down the hill from Jade Mountain, although a transfer is available both up and down at any time. After our flight we needed the exercise so a walk it was, and in any case, there are many other interesting things to see en-route including the lovely little rooms and suites of Anse Chastenet, Jade Mountain’s sister resort.

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The beach

 

Once we got to the beach we quickly jumped in the glistening Caribbean sea. The sea temperature was perfect and the water crystal clear. Although you can snorkel from the beach (which I would highly recommend), we also joined a group of other guests and took a short boat ride to go snorkelling at the foot of the closer Piton. The sights were incredible and the abundance of many, many pretty fish of varying shapes and sizes was remarkable. The highlight for me however was seeing a young turtle, something that I’ve never before seen in the wild; a great and memorable experience.

We lazed around on the beach until early evening, at which point it was time to go back to our heavenly room and to decide where to go for dinner.  On our first night we chose the Jade Mountain Club. This is located on the second top floor and has views which surpass those of the rooms below it. The food, wine, service and ambiance are all exceptional and the lovely sea breeze and serenity made the experience ever the more special.

On our second night and as it was my birthday, we had drinks watching the sun setting over the fiery red horizon. We then had a private dinner on the aptly named Celestial Terrace, an incredibly romantic experience. The Celestial Terrace is above the Jade Mountain Club so the views even more spectacular. With darkness now upon us our eyes were directed upwards towards the bewitching starlit heavens. After some time admiring the clear night sky  it was time to head back to our sanctuary and unwind some more, if that was at all possible.

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The Celestial Terrace

 

The view from the breakfast area is as good as, if not better than, the view from the room and we constantly found ourselves ordering another coffee just so we could look at it some more. The menu had something for everyone from Organic Gluten free oatmeal, a detox breakfast, to the ‘Top Sellers’ which included the “Chef’s 60 Minute poached Eggs”. Sadly as we were only staying for four days, I didn’t get to try the things I wanted to on the menu (always a great sign) but I certainly hope I will get the chance to come back and try some more!

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Breakfast

After breakfast, we went for a proper look around the resort and one thing that really stood out for me was the design; the materials and the vibrant, every-changing colours everywhere. Although, I don’t know who wouldn’t enjoy Jade Mountain, it is an architect’s and artist’s utopia. What Nick Troubetzkoy has created here is an absolute masterpiece. The design is flawless, the use of space ingenious and the positioning of the rooms to make the most of the magnificent views is an absolute credit to his skill.

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Nick Troubetzkoy’s masterpiece

Yasha, Nick and Karolin’s son, who has also inherited his parents’ acumen, has set up a venture within the premises of Jade Mountain. Yasha has started a chocolate making business and we were lucky enough to be shown around the Chocolate Laboratory, a marvellous creation that even Willy Wonka would be proud of,  and to try many of Yasha’s delicious organic chocolates, some of which are used in the Jade Mountain desserts.

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Chocolate made in Jade Mountain’s Chocolate Laboratory

Jade Mountain is dedicated to offering fresh, organic, home-grown produce wherever possible. We were shown around the resorts’ organic Emerald Estate Farm in the Soufriere Hills to learn about the mango tree and the great variety of other organic produce grown on the estate, including: vanilla beans, bay leaf, nutmeg trees and cinnamon trees

Mangos are especially loved by the St. Lucians and more than 24 different types of this exotic, locally celebrated fruit are grown on the island. We learnt that to celebrate this, the hotel has declared June ‘The Month of Mango.’ Guests staying at Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet will be lead on a journey of mango madness with the resorts’ on-site mango guru and consulting chef, Allen Susser. Spokesman for the National Mango Board and the author of The Great Mango Book, Chef Allen will show guests hundreds of methods to eat and use this tropical fruit. There will be weekly mango tastings, spectacular six-course gourmet mango menus, mango cocktail making classes and more! I never knew there were so many ways to use this delicious fruit and am terribly sad that we missed this event.

Sadly, our stay at Jade Mountain was too short and there were many things that we would have loved to have done which we didn’t. Now back in England and tackling our post-holiday blues we want to say a huge thanks to Nick, Karolin, Yasha and the lovely staff of Jade Mountain, we miss you!

http://www.jademountain.com/

26 Hours in Beijing

After enjoying the endless beaches and blue skies of the Philippines as backpackers for two weeks, arriving in Beijing was somewhat overwhelming, but luckily we were heading straight to luxurious Park Hyatt. Located in the city’s booming business district, Chaoyang, Park Hyatt Beijing takes up floors 35 to 63 of one of the city’s tallest buildings, giving guest’s uninterrupted views out over the skyscrapers.

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On arrival we were thrilled to find our room was a lovely blend of oriental design and high-tech gadgets. The marble bathroom came complete with epic rain shower and big square bath, with a dressing table island and walk-in-wardrobe. Sliding doors in the centre of the room provided privacy from the big king bed.

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After a quick-nap and an in-room coffee to recover from our five-hour flight from Manila, we set off on the metro to Tiananmen Square. Although we didn’t make it to the Forbidden City before it closed, not all was lost as we were able to explore the beautiful grounds and temples, and eventually found ourselves up high on Jingsan Park with a stunning view of the whole city.

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We returned to the Park Hyatt to find chocolate dipped strawberries and fresh fruits waiting in our room, and a box of chocolates with images of Beijing printed on each one. As evening fell the view from our room slowly lit up, a stretch of glowing lights in all directions. Up the 63rd floor Beijing’s cool crowd began to gather for cocktails in the hotel’s fashionable China Bar, although here as in Barcelona and Berlin, the partying usually only really gets going past midnight. The hotel’s signature China Grill restaurant serves delicious Chinese and European cuisine, and holds the prestigious title of the tallest restaurant in the city!

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Breakfast at the Park Hyatt was a real highlight: freshly made vegetable juices, pastries and full English alongside Chinese style choices. The granola was some of the best I’ve tasted, which I drizzled with honey dripping from a massive suspended honeycomb.

IMG_3278IMG_3286Staying at the Park Hyatt Beijing was a lovely, relaxing experience, and I can’t think of a more ideal way to break up the long journey from Manila to London. Our only regret is that we missed the Forbidden City, but this does give us a great excuse to come back!

beijing.park.hyatt.com

The Festive Folly by FranklinTill – What’s in The Box?

On Wednesday Evening, the Grifco team and I headed down to East London’s Andaz Liverpool Street to witness and celebrate the official unveiling of their incredible Festive Folly, created by creative consultancy FranklinTill.

Derived from the old French word folie, meaning delight or madness, the Folly itself – which stood proudly in the middle of the hotel’s lobby –  is composed of birch ply with specially created stencils inspired by wrapping paper patterns and traditional Christmas icons.

Kate Franklin and Caroline Till, of FranklinTill, are the creative forces behind the The Festive Folly. When discussing the collaboration with Andaz Liverpool Street, the duo said:

“We are as passionate about our East London surroundings as the hotel, so to be able to combine our expertise in exhibition curation & design, immersive workshops and experiential workshops with Christmas AND an East London local landscape was a dream criteria to work towards and we can’t wait to unveil the Festive Folly to Andaz guests and the general public.”

 

Design Duo: Kate Franklin and Caroline Till of FranklinTill

Design Duo: Kate Franklin and Caroline Till of FranklinTill

Met by overtones of the new Malachite candle by Fornasetti Profumi the foyer was filled with nostalgic Christmas scents as it successfully got us in the festive spirit.

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As the exposed bulbs, hanging from crimson cords shone through the seasonal stencil cut outs, the folly turned into an oversized lantern scattering patterns of light across the lobby floor.

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During the evening, the Folly played host to the East London Chorus whose harmonious seasonal rendition brought the event to life.

Joined by journalists and folly enthusiasts alike, we sipped on cockle warming mulled wine and white Russians as delicious canapés of goats cheese with cranberry coulis and miniature minced pies (amongst others) circulated the hotel’s lobby.

The best view was from the balcony on the first floor, which offered a bird’s-eye view of the spectacle. With Andaz Liverpool Street running a competition (winning a weekend night’s stay at the hotel, along with a brunch at the vibrant Eastway Brasserie) I took the opportunity to snap my #FesiveFolly entry on Instagram!

For this festive period only, the Festive Folly at Andaz will be host to a number of a jolly seasonal events with some of London’s most cutting – edge collaborators,  Odette Toilette, Petalon and the East London Chorus in a programme that includes wreath making, perfume smelling, an East London choir and gift wrapping with Odette Toilette themselves.

Their programme is as follows…

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The festive period is officially here, Merry Christmas!

36 hours in Chengdu

I was lucky enough to visit Chengdu this autumn with Dorsett Hotels & Resorts. Set on the western edge of the Sichuan basin, China’s forth city is not only thriving with cultural history and world-class cuisine, it is also the gateway to the country’s most magnificent natural wonders, not least, 80% of the world’s panda population. Unlike its bigger sister cities such as Beijing, Chengdu boasts a far more jovial rhythm, a captivating local culture and a plethora of tourist attractions.

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Giant Pandas playing in the early morning sunshine

Vibe

Despite being home to more than 14 million people, Chengdu is notably laidback. Whittle away the afternoon in one of the many traditional teahouses (do as the locals do, and try your hand at a game of mah-jong) or take a wander down Wide & Narrow Alleys, stopping to try local delicacies such as Dragon’s beard candy (a delicious Chinese sweet similar to spun sugar) as I did.

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Street food and culinary delights at Wide & Narrow Alley

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Wander

….down Jinli, an ever-popular and vibrant street, Jinli’s history can be traced back to the Qin Dynasty of 221BC. Soak up the atmosphere, inhale the spicy and irresistible aromas wafting up from tea stalls, and take your pick from one of the many Sichuan snacks, or xiaochi. Everything is rustled up on the spot and this place is the only street in town that you’ll get anywhere close to trying Chengdu’s 5,000-plus specialities, from rice glueballs to wontons and boiled dumplings.

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Beautiful tree decorations on Jinli Street

Ignite the taste buds

…with a Chengdu hotpot. The capital of the Sichuan Province, Chengdu has the highest density of restaurants and teahouses of any city in the world – some 42,000 at the latest estimate. Food crazes blaze across the gourmet scene like prairie fires, but the hotpot has been a longstanding Sichuan delicacy and is here to stay. With good reason, Unesco designated Chengdu the first City of Gastronomy in Asia, ahead of Singapore, Tokyo and Singapore in 2010.

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Sizzling Sichuan hotpot

Dine like a king

…at Yu’s Kitchen. This magical restaurant is by reservation only. Referred to by Fuchsia Dunlop as China’s answer to El Bulli, manage to secure one of the six tables as we did and you won’t be disappointed as chef Yu Bo delights the senses with an idiosyncratic display of gourmet Chinese dishes. Marvel at the beautifully-presented plates on the 32-course tasting menu, from alligator to truffle to edible ‘calligraphy brushes’ with sweet tomato dipping ‘ink’, all washed down with spherified jasmin tea.

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Just one of the dishes on the 32-course tasting menu at Yu’s Kitchen

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Our table at Yu’s Kitchen

Drink

…Tea. Natural wonders and food aside, it’s not just tea aficionados that should experience one of Chengdu’s greatest traditions – the teahouse. Traditionally synonymous with cards and mah-jong, discover these inviting houses nestled among the quieter corners of the city, perfect for a chrysanthemum or flowering osmanthus tea – a show in itself!

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Tea and spice markets

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Too many tea infusions to choose from

Cuddle

…A panda! These cute furry friends are the city’s main attraction, and the Giant Panda Research Base is an easy taxi journey (6 miles) from downtown Chengdu. Encompassing a vast 600 acres, this panda mecca is home to Giant Pandas and Red Pandas. The latter, smaller in size and rather endearing to watch as they happily played among the grass at breakfast time. Go at dawn when the pandas are most active, rolling around and climbing trees. For a hefty fee (circa £95) you can even cuddle one!

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Young Red Panda cub

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Just chillin’

& if you’re lucky

…catch a glimpse of the utterly adorable baby panda cubs, like we did!

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Little baby pandas, born just one week prior to our visit

Sleep

…In the comfiest beds in town. The beautiful Dorsett Grand Chengdu is perfect for those keen to explore both the city and surrounding areas. Fresh off the plane, the large bathtub and array of delicious lotions and potions made for a welcome night’s sleep as I dove face-first into this cloud of a bed on the 39th floor. With the curtains drawn, the room is enveloped in complete darkness guaranteeing even the most troubled sleeper an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

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Spacious, airy bedrooms and irresistibly comfortable beds at Dorsett Grand Chengdu

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Beautiful interior design in the lobby at Dorsett Grand Chengdu

Location is also hard to beat when it comes to Dorsett Grand Chengdu. Ideally situated in the lively Luoma Market area of the city, the hotel is just moments from the bustling Chunxi Road and renowned Chengdu sports centre. Metro stations just across the road render exploring the city cost-effective an hassle-free.

www.dorsetthotels.com/chengdu

Getting There

Many airlines fly from London to Chengdu, and BA launched a direct flight route from London Heathrow just earlier this year. Flight time: under 11 hours.

 

The Most Delicious Place In The Maldives

When I told a travel editor I was going to visit the Maldives for four days and that the resort I was staying at had 12 – yes 12 – restaurants and bars, she wondered if I could visit them all. The challenge was set. Could I visit all of the eateries at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, the resort with the most bars and restaurants in the Maldives, in four days?

I arrived at Malé airport tired and hungry, keen to get to my final destination to begin my challenge. The Conrad team there appeared like a mirage – I was whisked up to their private lounge to wait for my seaplane transfer, and a masseuse offered me a soothing back, shoulder, neck and head massage to counter the long flight. There was breakfast and wifi too. Happy days!  photo 1

It wasn’t long before I was transported from one cocoon to another, with a short seaplane hop. As we approached the resort we could see the two islands and the long bridge that connects them, stretching across the most perfect calm blue waters I have ever seen.

Cold towels and a chilled drink await as you step off the plane and onto the resort’s welcome pontoon. From there I was whisked to my room, a beach villa with tropical outdoor bathroom – including a giant rain shower and a square bathtub beneath a canopy surrounded by candles and leafy foliage.  There are a number of different rooms at the resort, including the iconic villas on stilts above the water, but I loved being right on the beach and having a little sandy pathway from my  door to my sun lounger by the sea.

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I had three mornings so plenty of time to try breakfast at both Atoll Market, the buffet style restaurant, and Vilu, located across the bridge with really amazing views out over the beach and sea. Atoll had a fantastical, mind boggling choice of dishes and a troop of chefs on hand to make any breakfast dream come true including a green juice bar and plump dim sum. Vilu was my favourite though – it was more boutique in feel with a small buffet and a la carte menu. They made a great Maldivian reef fish omelette with chilli and herbs,  delicious with fresh watermelon juice.

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The Rangali Bar on the beach was a lovely spot for lunch as well as refreshing cocktails before dinner – the menu there was classic dishes and deli dining, lots of great wraps and salads. I loved Mandhoo Restaurant, opposite the spa. It follows the spa’s five elements philosophy, and you choose depending on the elements you feel inspired by. Or just what sounds good on the menu! Really great fresh seafood and fish that practically jumps off the plate – in an amazing setting. If you are lucky you can spot manta rays swimming past you.

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Dinner was where choices started to get really difficult! So many places to choose and so little time. A highlight for me was an amazing Japanese tasting menu at Koko, an intimate little restaurant that sits a very small group, sunken into the sand. The Maldivian chef whipped up melt in the mouth sashimi and perfectly cooked Kobe beef right before our eyes and spoke perfect Japanese to one of our fellow diners.

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I also made it to Sunset Bar and Grill to tuck into local lobster and wine from Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s French estate, Miraval – a beautiful rosé that the Sommelier managed to lay his hands on because he worked there previously.

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Another evening we paired fine wines with tapas and delectable cheeses at the Cheese & Wine Bar – an amazing room underground where guests can enjoy a menu of 101 of the world’s best cheeses and wines to match. The floor in this hidden away room is silky, cool sand that you can dip your toes into.

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I failed my challenge though – I needed a few more days and a few more dinners. Ufaa, a brand new gourmet Chinese restaurant – was soon to open (it is now), and I had a look around Ithaa, the amazing famous underwater restaurant but will save dinner there for another trip.

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The wine cellar was somewhere all the guests were talking about – I popped down to check it out and it’s quite a sight – thousands of bottles of the best wine kept at perfect temperature and displayed beautifully underground. Guests are given fluffy slippers and blankets to keep cosy while they enjoy a personalised wine tasting experience with the Sommelier, paired with a delicious degustation dinner.Conrad Maldives_The Wine Cellar (7)

I also found time amidst the wining and dining to try outdoor yoga, snorkelling around the house reef, and a visit to the fantastic Spa to visit Christelle, the resort Naturopath for energy-boosting ear acupuncture and reiki. I actually didn’t feel jet lagged at all, during or after my stay and I’m sure the treatments helped. I did however feel rather full – I’ll be working this trip off for a while!

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www.conradhotels.com/maldives

 

 

Highly Anticipated Park Hyatt Vienna Opens

Hotel Exterior with Concierge

Park Hyatt Vienna Exterior

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Check in at Park Hyatt Vienna

At the opening of the Park Hyatt Vienna on Thursday night, it was hard to believe that the hotel hadn’t always been there. Right on one of the oldest squares, the Am Hof, in the UNESCO-protected heart of the city, the hotel is gracious and imposing, its great classical stone columns rising up to a pretty attic-style copper roof.

Park Hyatt Vienna's Bank Restaurant

Park Hyatt Vienna’s Bank Restaurant

The spacious presidential suite

The spacious presidential suite

The Pearl Bar

The Pearl Bar

Locals refer to the building as “The Bank” for good reason. Until a couple of years ago, the building housed the Bank of Austria – which explains the grandeur of its interiors. Beyond the imposing lobby, original stained glass windows from the early 1900s send light throughout the enormous space. Pillars and floors are of polished marble. Walls are embellished with multi-coloured stone cladding, painted with gold, lit with chandeliers and at the back, watched over by the bank’s original clock. As a guest was overheard to say: “It’s the closest thing Vienna has to the Georges V in Paris: the most glamorous opening the city has seen.”

Couples Spa Treatment Room in the Arany Spa

Couples Spa Treatment Room in the Arany Spa

Park King Room

Park King Room

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Park Hyatt Launch Decorations

Although the building’s historical details have been painstakingly preserved – and overseen by the city’s Antiquities and Monuments office – the interiors have been given a fresh, 21st-century look by hip Amsterdam-based designers FG stijl. Lounge chairs are covered in cool silvery velvets and super-soft metallic leather. Massive works of art by contemporary Viennese artists adorn the walls. Flowers arrangements are modern and sculptural (on the newspaper desk a row of orange arum lilies with grasses decorated the desk). Even the crockery and cutlery is clean and unfussy: the very antithesis of the fin de siècle architecture.

In most hotels, while public spaces are knock-out, often the rooms are unimpressive. Not here. Not only are the guest rooms the most spacious in the city (the smallest 35square metres, the largest 120), but characterful (of the 143 rooms, there are 100 different layouts, the warm, friendly young GM Monique Dekker told us).

Of the “standard” rooms, the sixth floor are the most characterful: with sloping “attic”-style ceilings and windows (best are road-facing, rather than courtyard-facing). All are similar colours: with unpolished oak parquet floors and limed oak wood pillars and panelling; latte-shaded walls; spacious lime-oak wardrobes; and bathrooms with unpolished marble finishes, capacious showers and baths, pretty beaten silver basins with clean-lined Grohe taps. Spoiling little extras in the bathroom included generous silver tubes of lime-scented Blaise Mautin products and super-soft white towelling robe that (unlike many hotels) were light and velvety.

Then there are the little luxury finishes: the elegant art-deco-style leather-covered desk; the mother-of-pearl-covered coffee table and (our favourite) a handsome wooden stand-alone drinks cabinet with hand-crafted mother-of-pearl handles and inside not just an Illy espresso machine, and local chocolate, cereal-bars and snacks, but an easy-glide fridge drawer stocked with delicious local drinks.

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A delicious Viennese Spread!

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Chocolate Infused with Ginger

The hotel’s Presidential Suite has to be one of the most sumptuous and glitzy in the capital: double-height, with a grand oak four-poster, a elaborate Viennese crystal chandelier, a pretty balcony looking over the square, and a bathroom with not just twinkly silver mosaic tiles around the bath but a whole lapis lazuli wall. All I could think of was just how many necklaces you could make out of it…

As one would expect of the Park Hyatt’s first Austrian hotel, the food at the opening party was sensational. One entire room was dedicated only to chocolates: strips, balls, squares and truffles, arranged in beautiful glass bowls set at different heights. There was a caviar bar. A cheese room where they showed off dozens of the different breads the Austrians breads are known for (gruyere cheese sticks were particularly moreish). And in the open-air kitchen of Bank, where chefs prepare local seasonal international food, little platters were being dished up: the rarest roast rump with grilled artichokes; foie gras with cherries; risotto with morelles. And of course, in the glamorous wood-panelled ballroom, there were platters of famous Viennese chocolate cakes, speckled with gold and adorned with cherries. And that was before one got to the library and drawing room, where the cream of silk-clad Viennese society were sipping XO Hennessey cognac and smoking cigars in a scene that could have been from a 100 years ago.

The next morning, things were a little quieter (the last guests left at 4.30am, a slightly weary looking Monique confided!) Perfect, then, for the spa. Called Arany (Hungarian for gold), it is set in the basement in the former bank vault, where the thick steel door is still installed as a reminder of the building’s past. In what must be a first, the 100m-long pool is floored in tiles the shape and size of gold bullion, overlooked by a handsome wood-panelled Technogym gym, and next to a soothing spa, with six treatment rooms. We soothed tired bodies with a full Sodashi massage, sauna and pummelling massage-rain-shower, followed by a huge array of pastries and breads. Then feeling human again, went out into Vienna to explore.

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Shopping in the Golden Quarter

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Gorgeous Suede Gloves

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A Milliner’s Dream!

The hotel is right at the heart of the revitalized Golden Quarter, just renovated (to a reported cost of 500 million euros), and now home to upmarket shops from Louis Vuitton to Church’s shoes. Keen to see some of the city’s more historical shops, we headed first to see its most famous cake shop: Demel, where within wooden-panelled rooms, they sell every sort of cake one might imagine, from strudels to rich sache torte (some handily packaged in easy-to-pack wooden boxes). Vienna is known for its gloves, so we visited its tiny Stiassny glovemaker, where Mr Stiassny makes gloves, and his sister sells them in the tiny wood-clad store. We popped into the three-story Knize, gentleman’s outfitters to the aristocracy for centuries (where the men among us bought raincoats with removable woollen lining). We ogled the jewels in Schullin jeweller, its shop designed by famous local architect Hans Hollein. We met the seventh-generation shoemaker at Scheer (where all shoes are made to order, and cost from 5,000 euros).

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Schullin Jewellers

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Schullin Jewellers

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Scheer’s Made-to-Order Gold Shoes!

And when we were exhausted – too much partying and way too much shopping in the glamorous Kohlmarkt, the street on which coal was now sold, and which is now the Madison Avenue or Bond Street of Vienna – we strolled back, taking in the grand domed palace, the churches and spires of this immaculately maintained Austrian city. It was a flying visit but next time, it will be to go to the opera, St Peter’s baroque cathedral, the Spanish Riding School, the museums. And, of course, back to the Park Hyatt Vienna, for yet another slice of rum-and-poppy-seed cake.

Synchronised swimming display to launch the Gold Bullion Swimming Pool. 

For more information please visit: http://www.vienna.park.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html

Images source: © Park Hyatt Vienna

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam – First Look

Last week we were treated to a sneak peek of the much anticipated Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam ahead of its opening next month. Having visited many months ago when the project was a building site I was excited to see the transformation within. And what a transformation it has been – the six canal-side town houses Waldorf Astoria have taken over have been impressively and sensitively morphed into a gorgeous boutique hotel. Aside from furniture encased in protective plastic covers much of the hotel looks ready for business. Already the staff welcoming us for our preview had things running like clockwork.

Waldorf Astoria have come up trumps with their choice of property – alongside Herengracht, one of the prettiest canals in town, the former town houses are steeped in history and offer gorgeous views from the huge windows – giving you the feeling that you really are in the heart of the city.

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Think beautiful stuccoed ceilings, light filled rooms, and lots of original details that have been uncovered in the renovation process.

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One of the Suites, the Backer Suite, has a stunning painted ceiling, evocative of Rembrandt and dating back to the seventeenth century. We saw the final stages of its painstaking restoration – it’s going to be a very special ceiling to sleep under.

There’s a tranquil garden behind the hotel, onto which the private club-like restaurant looks.

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A surprise is the sleek, modern spa, found in the depths of the hotel. With sauna, steam, sensory showers and a beautiful pool, it’s going to be an impressive cutting edge oasis amidst the historical property.

Large and light filled guest rooms are each individual due to the shape and characteristics of the buildings – even the entry level rooms are extremely spacious and super elegant.

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Love this suite which feels like your own private apartment on the canal.

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Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam opens in May 2014, joining Waldorf Astoria’s prestigious collection of hotels around the world.

We can’t wait to stay the night next time!

Visit www.waldorfastoria.com for more information.